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Real housing for the real Brooklyn? Half of the affordable units--or less

On July 17, in an editorial headlined Real housing for the real Brooklyn, a Daily News editorial recounted how more than 2,500 real New Yorkers packed a ballroom at the Brooklyn Marriott to hear a presentation on the estimated 2,250 units of low-cost housing that would be built as part of Atlantic Yards, benefitting families who languish for as long as eight years on waiting lists for public housing and Section 8 vouchers.

I already pointed out that most Daily News readers would hardly consider the subsidized housing uniformly "low-cost," since some 40 percent of the affordable units would rent for well over $2000 a month (for a four-person family.)

But the editorial deserves a closer look, especially since it suggests that the 2250 units would be benefitting families who languish for as long as eight years on waiting lists for public housing and Section 8 vouchers.

Section 8 limits

For Section 8 assistance, $35,450 is the maximum income for a four-person family. That means that only 900 of the 2250 units would be available to people now waiting for Section 8 vouchers.

Public housing limits

City public housing rules set $56,700 as the maximum income for a four-person family. Because $56,700 is about halfway through Band 3 ($42,540-$70,900), that suggests that half of those 450 units could go to those seeking public housing.

Thus, a total of 1125 units might be considered "Real housing for the real Brooklyn." Or maybe just 900, as noted below.

AMI blues

Part of the problem is that the city's affordable housing plans are geared to the Area Median Income (AMI), which is set by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development.

The New York AMI is $70,900. However, that figure incorporates not only the five boroughs of New York City, but also the more affluent Nassau, Putnam, Rockland, Suffolk, and Westchester counties. The way AMI is calculated has drawn criticism from local officials and housing advocates.

Meanwhile, the median income in the city itself is much lower. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Atlantic Yards project, in Chapter 4 (p. 34), cites the median household income for Brooklyn as $32,135 and for the city as $38,293. Those statistics come from the 2000 U.S. Census and thus are somewhat outdated, but they still suggest that Brooklyn's median income is significantly less than the New York AMI calculated for the region.

Bottom line

It's not Forest City Ratner's fault that only 40 percent (900) of the affordable units would be geared to average Brooklynites, since the income ranges are related to the HUD guidelines and the mix of units geared to the city's New HOP affordable housing program.

On the other hand, when company executive Jim Stuckey says "we're trying desperately to address the affordable housing crisis in New York City right now," that statement must be seen as political spin, not accurate description.

And so should the Daily News's claim that the affordable housing would help people waiting for public housing or Section 8 vouchers. After all, the Daily News has editorialized vigorously in favor of the project.

But if 900 of 6860 units are truly affordable, that would be 13% of the project. If you count 1125 units, the ratio nudges past 16%. (I'm not going to add the 600 to 1000 affordable for-sale condos planned, because most would be aimed at those in the upper affordable-income tiers.)

The affordable housing ratio would be higher than at several other projects that include no affordable housing at all. But that doesn't make it "Real housing for the real Brooklyn."


  1. While the NYT's reporting is better than before on this issue....and they now admit they are a partner in development with Forest City, something is still 'fishy' about their reporting...there is a reluctance on the part of the newspaper to investigate or report on the obvious - that the 'findings' that Ms Wetzel referred too were pre-determined as was the bidding process for Atlantic Yards and when the whole review process is a sham, well we usually call that corruption.


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